Nilo Cruz’s plays often center on people suffering displacement and trying to find distractions for that pain, as in his 2003 Pulitzer Prize-winning Anna in the Tropics, about a group of Cuban immigrants working in the cigar industry in 1929 Florida who take comfort from hearing Anna Karenina read aloud—and like Anna, engage in their own passionate infidelities. In 2018’s Exquisita Agonía, the characters are caught between life and death, past and present. Marcela Muñoz’s staging for Aguijón Theater (presented in Spanish with English supertitles) captures their pain and disruption while also raising some interesting questions about what makes us who we are.
Millie Marcel (Rosario Vargas) is an opera singer desperate to find the recipient of her late husband’s heart. After she exchanges letters with the young man, Amér (Israel Balza), they decide to meet—and it seems clear that Millie wants more from Amér than just to listen to her beloved’s heart one more time. Amér has also felt different since the transplant, and wonders if some part of the dead man’s character has now become infused with his own.
Amér, his pragmatic brother, Imanol (Sándor Menéndez), and his doctor (Elio Leturia) finally meet Millie’s family. A host of unresolved issues involving Millie’s children—pregnant daughter Romy (Andrea Leguizamón) and especially son Tommy (Victor Salinas)—come flooding out in ways both lyrical and nakedly wounding. Yet through all the rage and revelations, Cruz’s story and this production both remain animated by the empathetic cast. It’s a sharp and bittersweet reminder of the need to keep one’s heart pumping and hope alive even in the most dislocating of circumstances. v